Analysing 5 possible ideas to revive Challenge Cup fortunes after flat weekend

Aaron Bower
Challenge Cup trophy - Alamy

The Challenge Cup trophy

You do not need to be an expert on rugby league to know that the Challenge Cup is experiencing somewhat of a crisis right now.

Crowds are down and enthusiasm for the competition that is supposed to be rugby league’s most important has never really felt flatter. But the cup isn’t beyond saving, you feel: and with IMG watching closely, you suspect some level of revamp is coming on the horizon.

Here’s five possible ways the game can revitalise a competition in desperate need of some flair.

Put Super League sides in much earlier

An obvious one to start – and an idea that has gained plenty of traction over the weekend. There simply isn’t enough excitement in the cup these days, largely because by the time Super League clubs come in, there are only four teams remaining from outside the elite.

You only had to be at Batley on Saturday afternoon to see what potential upsets can do in terms of atmosphere. It also gives fans of all clubs experiences and matchups they don’t get in Super League. Putting the top 12 in one – or even two – rounds earlier would create more dream ties, and reduce the malaise that lingered over this weekend’s fixtures.

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The lowest ranked team plays at home

Another simple idea in principle, but one that would create some jeopardy and some intrigue – as well as potentially bring financial benefits to lower-league clubs.

If a Super League side is drawn against a Championship, League 1 or community club – which would be much more likely if they entered earlier in the competition – they have to go away from home. It would increase the prospect of a shock, mean clubs outside of Super League would potentially have the chance to draw a big crowd and create much more intrigue.

We’d be all for it.

Utilise OuRLeague so people can see the games

It was, quite frankly, borderline criminal that barely any of the Challenge Cup ties this weekend weren’t broadcast. Leeds versus St Helens was tucked away on iPlayer while The Sportsman showed Leigh versus Featherstone: but everything else wasn’t streamed at all.

That seems even more bizarre when the RFL have a ready-made platform in OuRLeague that could have sold match passes to watch the games – or even streamed them for free. If the BBC don’t want to show the games, that’s fine: but there has to be a way to allow people to watch the cup, or the drop-off in interest becomes entirely predictable.

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Use Magic Weekend for the quarter-finals

With IMG mulling over what to do with Magic Weekend, why not incorporate it into the Challenge Cup?

Make Magic a big weekend out for the cup rather than Super League, and take the quarter-finals of the tournament out on the road to a major venue. It not only automatically refreshes Magic as a concept, but it creates an extra motivation for clubs to get to the last eight. Imagine a Championship club knowing they’re one win away from a big weekend out in Newcastle, for example?

A complete revamp to group stages

The last option is somewhat nuclear: completely ripping things up and starting again.

Going to a Champions League-style format, with all professional clubs entering from the early stages and being seeded into groups, would be the most radical overhaul rugby league has ever seen to its flagship competition.

But if the malaise surrounding the cup continues, you wonder if IMG would consider something as extreme to revive the fortunes of a tournament that, at present, is stuck in a real rut.

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